No Way Out: How Prime-Age Workers Get Trapped In Minimum-Wage Jobs


  • Heather Boushey


Most minimum-wage workers are adults making significant contributions to the total family income. In the early 2000s, less than one-in-five workers earning the minimum wage was under the age of 20 and half were between the ages of 25 and 54. Using the Survey of Income and Program Participation, this article finds that prime-age workers in minimum-wage jobs are likely to “get stuck” at those jobs. Over a third of prime-age adults in minimum-wage jobs remain in minimum-wage jobs three years later. Not all adults in minimum-wage jobs have the same chance of moving into a job paying more than the minimum wage. The probability of moving out of a minimum-wage job is higher for men, native-born citizens, those with union jobs, and those that change industry and/or occupation. The probability of staying in a minimum-wage job was greater in the early and mid-1990s, as compared to the late 1990s and early 2000s.